After 26 years as administrative assistant for Bryan County Schools’ superintendent and the Board of Education, Clara Shearouse decided the time was right to retire.
Her tenure with the school system spanned six superintendents and 31 school-board members. Many of them were on hand, along with family and friends, for a reception in Shearouse’s honor May 28, her next-to-last day on the job.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said of the turnout.
Shearouse was substitute-teaching at Lanier Elementary School when she took a temporary job as secretary under then-Superintendent Perry Bacon. The role became permanent when the school board hired her full-time in February 1989.
“I just came in to fill in for 30 days and never left,” Shearouse said.
Many people expressed their gratitude for that as they shared hugs, laughs and fond memories with Shearouse at the reception.
“She’s a real trooper,” Bacon said. “She’s cool, calm and collected under the most adverse of conditions. She greets everyone exactly the same. She’s been a real representative for the Board of Education for a good number of years.”
Shearouse was much more than that to Joe Ann Jarrell, who served as school-board chairwoman from 1990-94. She was Jarrell’s confidant and cheerleader at a time when, as they both pointed out, women were “a little outnumbered” by men in the school system’s leadership roles.
“I could not have made it through the four years without Miss Clara helping me,” Jarrell said. “She was a sweetie — and still is.”
Jarrell recalled one particular school-board meeting that drew a large number of people from the community. She said Shearouse “rescued” her after she was “pinned in a corner” by several people voicing their opinions after the meeting.
“I would call her on a daily basis, and we would discuss what was going on,” Jarrell said. “She would say, ‘You can do it.’ And I’d say, ‘With your help, yeah, I can.’”
Seven new schools opened in Bryan County during Shearouse’s tenure. As the school system grew and the superintendents and board members changed, Shearouse’s familiar face remained at the central office.
“With her leaving, you lose a living history of knowing what’s gone on in the district for all these years,” said Gary Russell, one of her former superintendents. “She is the one constant who has worked with everybody.”
That is not lost on Paul Brooksher, Bryan County’s superintendent since 2012. Shearouse has offered to lend an occasional hand if needed, so Brooksher is keeping her phone number handy.
“I have her phone number, I know where she lives, and it won’t take me long to get there to get her,” Brooksher said with a smile. “You cannot replace 26 years of experience.”
A major reason Shearouse decided to retire was to help care for her ailing mother, Ruby Tucker Carter. Unfortunately, her mother died less than two weeks before Shearouse’s final day of work.
“But I’m still going to retire because it’s just time,” Shearouse said. “I want to go to the beach, go on vacation, do things I want to do.”
Shearouse plans to spend as much of her leisure time as possible with her two daughters, Bonnie Godbee and Melanie Smith, and her six grandchildren.
“She deserves every minute,” Jarrell said.
Following the reception, Shearouse was honored at her final school-board meeting. Brooksher presented a plaque recognizing her service to the school system and community.
“Thank you for basically helping a first-time superintendent grow up,” Brooksher said to her.
“It’s been a ride,” Shearouse said. “I’ve loved every minute of it.”
The meeting concluded with each board member thanking Shearouse. Some shared a favorite story or what they will most remember about her.
“She always has the sweetest smile on her face. That’s probably what I’m going to miss the most,” Marianne Smith said.
The final board member comments came, fittingly, from Paine Bacon, Shearouse’s nephew. He credited his aunt for helping make his transition to the school board smooth and his time on it enjoyable.
“It always felt like family — because we are family,” he said.
The board hired Rene Hargrove as Shearouse’s successor during the executive session that followed last Thursday night’s meeting.
Hargrove hails from Statesboro and is returning to the area after working in New York and receiving a bachelor’s degree in English from Fordham University, Brooksher said.
She started as the administrative assistant to the superintendent Monday.